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Minorities in China


Between 1995 and 2007, I did extensive work throughout the P. R. of China. Coming from what I describe as “a cultural minority” myself, I guess it is only natural that I have shown particular interest in what the Chinese authorities define as “The National Minorities”, fifty-six of which are officially recognised.
Many of these minorities live on China’s borders, or in other isolated areas that were then still ‘closed’ to foreigners. Yet even in these isolated areas, the effects of the rapid social, economic and cultural transformation sweeping through the People’s Republic were apparent, although frequently, quite distinct.
Nobody really knows the exact population of the P. R. of China today; a rough estimate is 1.4 billion. Of these individuals only about 7% (under 100 million) are officially considerd to be from a “minority”. Some minority groups have already been almost totally assimulated by the majority Han Chinese. However, others (most notably the Tibetans and Uighurs) defiantly attempt some form of resistance to this process. It would appear to be a loosing battle – simply a question of time and numbers. Some areas in western China, the traditional homelands of many minorities, saw their populations double due to the massive influx of Han Chinese during the period I worked on this project. Central government has actively assisted this phenomenon by awarding awarding economic incentives to those Han who want to “move west” and by developing infrastructure. Meanwhile, many minorities continue to struggle in their attempt to preserve and develop some form of diverse identity.


Uighur Father and Son

Uighur Father and son in the “Chulan” (Cherry) resettlement community. The government hope to move 30,000 “volunteers” to the site that is part of a desert reclamation scheme in southern Xinjiang. The only water supply has its source at a distance of over 600km and passes through several similar communities (which also use it for domestic consumption, irrigation and sewerage) before arriving to “Chulan”. There are also many military camps in this area, which remains closed to all those without permits.

Miao Peasant

Miao peasant in Eastern Guizhou Province which remains one of the poorest and most backward in China today (one third of the population live below the national poverty line, 70% are illiterate and 50% of the villages are not accessible by road). Much to the frustration of local authorities the Miao remain largely self-sufficient and show little interest in assimilation with the Han through discarding their cultural identity.

Wa Peasants

Wa peasants planting rice near the border with Myanmar in Western Yunnan. The Wa live on both sides of the border and were still largely a semi-nomadic people until 1949.

Amdo Youth

Amdo youth with a homemade Nike cap in front of traditional prayer flags. Qinghai Province.

Uighur Boy, Kashi

Uighur boy in the back streets of Kashi, South West Xinjiang. The Uighur, a people of Turkic descent, are one of the largest of the 56 “National Minorities” officially recognised in the P.R. of China today. Kashi was declared the capital of the independent Turkestan Republic formed in 1945, however by 1951 all serious organized armed resistance to Chinese authority in the area had been defeated.

Mongol Boy

Mongol boy listens to a ghetto blaster on the border with Kazakhstan in North West Xinjiang. The Mongol people are to be found in all the northern Provinces of China.

Amdo Basketball

Amdo youth playing basketball in Central Qinghai. The Amdo are a Tibetan people who, unlike the Kampa, are traditionally cultivators and therefore not nomadic.

Kampa Youth

Kampa youth with his new bike on the plains of central Qinghai.

Han Military Photos

Han military pose for photos in front of Tibetan monks during the “Yushu Horse Festival” which, unlike other local festivals, is officially sponsored by the authorities in order to attract mainly Han tourists. Southern Qinghai Province.

Moped Couple

Han Chinese couple visiting the “Yushu Horse Festival”. Qinghai is currently experiencing a massive influx of Han Chinese, mainly from central provinces, who are encouraged to move by the authorities with financial incentives, effectively colonizing the area which until recently had a majority of non Han inhabitants.

Dong Theatre Group

"Dong" theatre group perform for Japanese tourists. Guizhou Province.

Yi Tourist Guide

A Yi guide in national costume with a Chinese tourist in the Stone Forest. Yunnan Province.

Tibetan Bingo

Tibetans playing bingo at the Yushu Horse Festival. Qinghai.

Satellite Sutra

Amdo girls with Sutra (Buddhist religious texts) that are taken in procession during a harvest festival. Gansu Province.

Kampa in Huei settlement

Kampa youth in a Huei settlement to buy provisions in Central Qinghai. The Kampa are a Tibetan people and many still live the traditional nomadic lifestyle that is dependant on the breeding of livestock (yak, horses and sheep). The Huei are Chinese Muslims, often traders or restaurateurs, they are found throughout China.

Uighur "Burqa" Kashgar

A Uighur woman street vendor wearing the local version of the “burqa” and a local photographer in Kashgar, Xinjiang.

Prayer Papers

Amdo harvest festival. The prayer papers on the ground are thrown into the air as offerings to the Mountain Spirits. Gansu Province. The festival still has elements of the ancient Bon religion, an animistic faith which was common to the area before the arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd Century AD.

Wa New Year

Wa New Year ritual in South Western Yunnan Province.

Friday Prayers

Huei Muslims leave the mosque after Friday prayers in North Western Guizhou Province. The Huei are practically Han Chinese (originally Arab traders on the silk routes after centuries of inter marriage they are often ethnically integrated and are to be found throughout China) but are considered a “Minority Nationality” by the authorities, as they are Muslims and have adopted a “foreign” religion.

Mosque Beggars

Beggars outside the main mosque in Kashgar, Xingjiang.

"Miao" Coalminer

"Miao" coalminer. Central Guizhou Province.

Dong carpenters

"Dong" carpenters working on a house being built in the traditional way. Guizhou Province.

Wa Village

Fetching water in a Wa village. Yunnan Province.

Kampa Shepard

Kampa Shepard takes a break from shearing sheep in South East Gansu Province.

Jinuo Woman

A Huei farmer gathers his meagre crop in central Ningxia Province. The northern Ningxia Province has always been one of the poorest in China and is the home to approx. 6 million Huei.

Jinuo Woman

Jinuo woman clearing land before planting. The Jinuo are one of the smallest of the 56 “Minority Nationalities” officially recognized in PR of China. The total population of the Jinuo is a little over 15000 and they were largely slash and burn semi- nomadic farmers until the 1950ies and 1960ies. Xishuangbanna Region, Yunnan Province.

Harvest in Kelpin

Harvest in Kelpin, Western Xinjiang. Kelpin is an area closed to foreigners which is being "depopulated" by the authorities who consider the local Uighers too rebellious and too close to the Kyrgyzstan border.

Huei Religious Students

Huei religious students visit homes in central Ningxia Province. The northern Ningxia Province has always been one of the poorest in China and is the home to approx. 6 million Huei.

Miao Coalminer

Coalminer in a Miao village in Central Guizhou Province.

Huei Road Workers

Huei road construction workers fetching water in central Qinghai Province. Road and rail construction workers are often farmers who don't earn enough from their land to support their families and therefore work up to six months of the year in dire conditions for as little as 1US$ per day.

Carpenter with Tree

"Dong" carpenter carrying a tree trunk to be used for building a house. South East Guizhou Province.

Hemp Thread

Wa women prepare hemp thread. Yunnan province.

Thatched Roof

Thatched roof in a Wa village. Yunnan Province.

Kampa Girls

Kampa girls in their best on their way to a horse festival. Central Qinghai.

Jinuo Boy

Jinuo boy. The Jinuo are one of the smallest of the 56 “Minority Nationalities” officially recognized in PR of China. The total population of the Jinuo is a little over 15000 and they were largely slash and burn semi- nomadic farmers until the 1950ies and 1960ies. Xishuangbanna Region, Yunnan Province.

Beijing Mosque

Huei Muslims in the courtyard of Beijing's main mosque.

“Mountain Spirit"

The “Mountain Spirit” possesses the body of a village elder in trance. The Mountain Spirit (a mythical figure from the ancient Ba culture) is the guest of honour in an Amdo harvest festival. Gansu Province.

Uighur Marriage Party

Women at a Uighur marriage party held at the bride’s home. Yining, Xinjiang

Huei Marriage

Preparing for games during a Huei marriage in Central Nigxia Province.

Uighr "Stag Night"

Many jokes are told during "Stag Night" celebrations for a Uighr groom. Yining, Xinjiang.

Huei Cemetary

Han Chinese working at the Huei cemetery outside Xi'an.

Huei Marriage Feast

Elders at a Huei marriage feast in Central Ningxia Province.

Kampa Dance

Kampa dance on the plains of Central Qinghai at an altitude of 4500m above sea level.

Backstreet Mosque

Outside a Mosque in the backstreets of Kashgar, Xinjiang.

Dong village Middle School

Middle School in a Dong village. The map shows "the Motherland" and the world from a Chinese perspective.

Miao girl in Middle School

Miao girl in a Middle School. Even in Minority areas almost all lessons are in Mandarin.

Koranic school

Koranic school for adults, Ningxia province.

Young Tibetan Monks

Young Tibetans wanting to attend Buddhist Monasteries must first pass exams on their patriotic allegiance to the "Motherland". Xiahe, Gansu.

Huei Village

Scene In a Huei village in Central Gansu Province

Jinuo Village

Scene in a Jinuo village. Xishuangbana, Yunnan

Monk playing pool

Young Tibetan monk plays pool in Dare, central Qinghai. Many political and common prisoners were sent to this area for internal exile.

Monks playing football

Tibetan monks playing football on the central plains of Qinghai, 3800m above sea level. Eastern Tibet.

Miao National Minority symbol

Writing the Miao National Minority symbol in cement in preparation for the arrival of the tourist industry.

Huei Newly Weds

Young Huei newly weds in their new home with all the mod cons, apart from running water. Central Ningxia.

Han Settler

A Han settler reads ads in the local paper while a Uigher man takes a nap in central Urumqi, Xingjiang. The city's population is now largely Han.

Mosque in Shanghai

Newly built Muslim Mosque in Shanghai. Many people from Minority cultures are moving to China's big cities.

Huei Labourer, Gansu

Huei labourer on new roadwork through Gansu, eastern Tibet.

Uigher Porter

Uigher porter in Urumqi central market, which has been almost totally taken over by Han Chinese traders. Xingjiang.

New Mosque, Ningxia

Huei youth working on the building site of a new Mosque, central Ningxia.

Miao Youth

Miao youth returns home to his village from the city for New Year celebrations.

Disabled Street Performers

A group of disabled street performers in Yushu, Southern Qinghai. The group were Han Chinese (the ethnic majority) from Sichuan Province and had travelled several hundred kilometers because they said they earn more when performing for Tibetans then at home.

Tibetan Police

Tibetan police call the photographer for questioning. Central Qinghai

Uighur Watch

Uighur farmer displays his watch. The Uighur population still keep local time (two hours behind the national standard) for practical reasons and as a demonstration of defiance towards the central government in Beijing. The authorities insist on using “Beijing Time” for public office hours and trains despite it being totally impractical. Kelpin, Xinjiang.

Yak Race

Yak race in Central Qinghai, Eastern Tibet.

Yi Calf Sacrifice

A sacrificed calf is left as an offering to the spirits in the hope that they will, in turn, protect the harvest of a small Yi community in South West Sichuan.